1,000 on Oahu to take part in long-term health study


POSTED: Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The University of Hawaii medical school is looking for 1,000 Oahu families to participate in a study that could eventually help millions.

The $3 billion nationwide research project that starts today in New York and North Carolina is the biggest and most comprehensive health study ever, said its co-director, Dr. Beatriz Rodriguez of the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Researchers hope that by looking at both genetic predisposition to certain disease and certain environmental factors, they can identify exactly why certain people get certain diseases, including autism, asthma, birth defects, heart disease and obesity.

“;Our main emphasis (is) how can we prevent these diseases from occurring,”; Rodriguez added. The study “;will identify factors that affect health in every phase of life.”;

When the project gets under way here, in July 2010, Rodriguez said, researchers will go door to door in certain Oahu neighborhoods to find pregnant women or those who will likely become pregnant in the first four years of the study.

Health care professionals will ask medical and other questions of the women, then follow their children from prenatal care until they are 21 years old.

Along with their biological data, samples of the air, water and dust around the children will be regularly compiled. And information will be collected about what children eat and even the safety of their neighborhoods, officials added.

“;We want to see how genes and the environment work together”; to cause certain diseases, Rodriguez said. “;The study will be on a very large scale and ... is more ambitious than has ever happened before.”;

Plus, with such a huge sample size - expected to be 100,000 people across the country - rare disorders and their genetic and environmental causes can also be studied, she added.

While the neighborhoods on Oahu will be selected randomly in the coming months, researchers are looking for geographically, socioeconomically and ethnically diverse areas of Oahu.

The Burns School of Medicine has received a $14.5 million contract to conduct the first portion of the study in Hawaii. The total price tag over the 20-year length of the project is expected to be $50 million for Hawaii alone.

But the study could end up saving money, Rodriguez said.

Americans already spend $642 billion a year to battle just six of the chronic diseases highlighted in the study. Reducing those costs by just 1 percent would save $6.4 billion per year, according to figures supplied by the medical school.

The National Children's Study began in response to the Children's Health Act of 2000, when Congress mandated research into environmental and genetic factors on child and human health. Along with the U.S. Department of Health, the research project will include researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, officials said.